Arts: The week on radio

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MPs have been getting very exercised about the prospect of their activities being confined to long wave as part of Radio 4's great schedule changes next month. There is a strong argument that one of the best services a public service broadcaster can perform is to open the actions of our legislators to plain view. Putting parliamentary coverage on long wave, even with extended hours, isn't furthering that aim.

At the same time, you can appreciate the crystalline logic behind the BBC's decision to lump parliament in with Test Match Special and the Morning Service: these are all minority activities apparently intended to give the listener, either through philosophy or sheer dullness, a new perspective on eternity.

On These Days (last Saturday on Radio 4) offered a history of parliamentary scandals which made it clear that over the past century or so Parliament has offered colourlessness as a plausible substitute for transparency. The production was partly to blame for this, with its shameless adoption of every aural cliche (a brief account of Parnell and Kitty O'Shea was accompanied, bafflingly, by a mawkish dose of Irish folk music) and the usually sparky Matthew Parris on subdued form.

Still, the main problem was a lack of really impressive wrongdoing. Of course, it may be that Parliament has just been particularly good at covering up its own tracks; but listening to Yesterday in Parliament on Friday, you wondered whether the presence of the microphone only makes it more tempting for the public to ignore potential scandal.

After a solid five minutes of drab heckles directed at Geoffrey Robinson and his all-singing, all-dancing blind trust, what you feel is not righteous indignation but a weary sense that a quick burst of Morning Service might be just the thing to liven up proceedings. Roll on long wave and bury the whole thing in decent obscurity for a while; then we can rediscover enough respect for our legislators to worry about what they get up to.

Meanwhile, buried in the more than decent obscurity of Radio 3's Sunday evening schedules, a wholesale transfer of the Royal Court production of Conor McPherson's play The Weir. A talkie jumble of inconsequential dialogue and lengthy anecdote, this is in many ways the worst possible play to do on radio. But while the actors did from time to time sink into a deadening staginess, the nuanced depth of their performances allowed an undertone of nagging horror to pierce the atmosphere. And Ian Rickson managed to enhance the effect with a creative use of radio cliche - the howling wind effect which opened the play was just enough overdone to create a useful sense of chaos barely held off.

At a time when the BBC is becoming notably cowardly about broadcasting plays of any length, The Weir provided a neat vindication of drama.

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